From the quiet farming town of Marondera, we made our way to the capital, Harare, the sunshine city, the home of potential. Our team set up at the Harare Exhibition Park also known as Showgrounds for the busy two days ahead. 

The team was made up of individuals from different stakeholders partnering together to enhance the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Zimbabwe. Partners included Impact Hub Harare, Zimbabwe Youth Council, Steward Bank, Micah Foundation and Higher Life Foundation. The Startup Tour Bus is a program launched by Youth Connekt Zimbabwe, an initiative established and led by the United Nations Development Program in Zimbabwe (UNDP Zimbabwe) and the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation.  

Our participants had been following the bus since we had started and some had used this time to prepare and refine their pitches and products. Ryan Katayi said that he had been impressed by the winner of Masvingo, Donbosco Masendeke, that it encouraged him to improve his pitch and presentation skills. He also said that he intended to collaborate with Donbosco and other participants he had met on Day 1. Our number one mandate is to connect youth to opportunities and each other so it was amazing to see the potential co-creation and collaborations forming. 

Day 1 started with an address from an official in the Ministry of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation, welcoming participants and invited guests. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) gave an introduction of Youth Connekt, explaining the mission and goals of this organisation. After this, we got down to business with training sessions from Micah Foundation; Steward-Millennial Bank; Impact Hub Harare; the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development; and the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce. Fayaz King, the Chief Operating Officer of Econet ran the training session on Niche marketing for Elevate. 

Hip hop gospel star Mudiwa Hood entertained the crowd with his fantastic rhymes. Lucky, our resident artist performed the Zimdancehall track he created for Youth Connekt that had the crowd on its feet dancing. On the sidelines of the training sessions, there were various SMEs exhibiting their products and services.

Harare’s participants were confident and could not wait to battle it out for the prize, US$5,000. There was an impressive list of innovations which included: sustainable solutions to medical waste; a financial literacy coaching service with an online platform; and an offline application with educational material. It was not an easy job for the judges at any of the provinces to choose the finalists from the elevator pitch sessions, and Harare was no different. After some deliberation, the final ten were announced, signalling the end of Day 1. 

Day 2 started very early for the finalists, with Impact Hub Harare leading the one on one mentoring, business coaching and pitch finalisation. This was to prepare them to face the judges for 8 minutes, three for the pitch and the other five for the question and answer session.  The pitch training session was helpful, as some of the participants had never pitched before or did not know how to go about it. The final pitching in front of the judges started mid-morning, giving time to those with cumbersome or large products enough time to prepare for their showcase during the second 5 pitch sessions. The founders all spoke with confidence and knowledge. 

While waiting for the judges’ decision, Minister of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation, Honourable Kirsty Coventry gave an address. She commended the youth for knowing how to take the challenges faced by Zimbabweans and turning them into business opportunities. Minister Coventry urged the youth to continue figuring out different and unique ways to move the country forward, especially during the tough times that we are in now. To the entrepreneurs, she said, “I’m proud of you, well done.”

The second runner up was Valentine Shoti with her company Organut, which manufactures value-added peanut butter. She adds ingredients like ginger and aloe vera to peanut butter to increase the nutritional benefits. Valentine was a feisty competitor and the crowd favourite because of her personality.  The first runner up was Stuart Nyakatswau founder of Wastinnova, a startup that created sustainable solutions for medical waste in Zimbabwe.  The winner was Tatenda Mpofu who offers virtual reality tours of your home during construction with his company, Zezuru Studio. He was happy and excited to be representing Harare at the National Finals in September. When asked to give a word to the youth Tatenda confidently stated, ”keep following your dreams, work hard, keep a strong team around you and never give up on your vision.”

Once the winners were announced, we quickly packed up and made our way to Gweru in Midlands province, our eight stop on the tour.  To relive the experience click here to visit the album.